Stick Fighting

Stickfighting is an old African tradition brought to Trinidad by the slaves during the latter part of the 17th century. 

Stickfighting was a ritual dance dating back to the days of slavery when men would duel with sticks (bois) in the centre of rings or gayelles, hence the word boismen or stickfighters. The wooden sticks used were from the yellow poui tree, and were about three and a half to four feet long, and one inch in diameter.

Although it is said that the French brought carnival to Trinidad, many of the slaves traced some of the festivities back to their country of origin. After Emancipation in 1834, stickfighting developed and became associated with carnival and was termed Kalenda .

It is believed that Kalenda began around 1860 when the freed slaves organized themselves into competing bands and held performances. Men, women and children would sing or dance to be entertained by the stickfighters who would perform to the rhythm of drums. Kalenda songs were a form of expression of anger or violence, an ease of tension from slavery, warlike, chantlike and often rebellious.

When the drumming starts one fighter would throw his stick into the ring and the rival would accept the challenge by jumping in and waving his stick. They would then taunt each other as a form of entertainment for the onlookers before the duel begins

Wearing a costume is an important part of the stickfighting tradition but some fighters wear their everyday clothes. 

The costume is made of

  • coloured satin decorated with beads,swansdown (duck feathers) and tiny mirrors
  • heart-shaped mirrors or decorations on the chest and back  
  • a head tie with two long ends hanging on either side
  • stockings
  • alpargatas (sandals)

The mirrors indicate an awareness of the world around us. The chest mirror has a number of historical meanings, including protecting the heart or seeing into someone's soul.

Stickfighting was frowned upon by the ruling class because of its violent outcome. It was eventually banned in 1880.

During the Canboulay Riots in 1881, the kalinda fighters played a part in physically defending the people's rights to celebrate their carnival against the harsh rules of the Colonial British Police.

Today, stickfighting takes place all over Trinidad, more practised as a dance since its re-introduction in 1937 under controlled competitions. It is also now one of the traditional events leading up to and during the carnival season.

Its roots are still that of a martial arts originated from Africa.

Spelling variations and where they come from:

Kalenda - African

Calenda - Spanish

Calinda - French

Kalinda - Hindi